Sports

CM Punk and the UFC: The Internet Breaks

One thing’s for sure: it shouldn’t be too difficult for Dana White to license the rights to “Cult of Personality.”

Oh, and Phil Brooks, whatever moniker he uses when entering the Octagon, won’t be denied sponsors for his trunks this time. He may not get Pepsi’s sphere emblazoned across his crotch, but it’s more than what Vince McMahon reportedly was willing to allow.

But a bigger loser, from an ego standpoint, has to be Triple H. Not only was CM Punk unwilling to work with McMahon’s son-in-law at WrestleMania XXX, but Punk will instead be sharing the stage with some 1-0 or 2-1 no-name, lunch-bucket rookie. There’s a chance Punk could get his teeth kicked in by this likely-undistinguished competitor, and it’s still preferable in Punk’s eyes than that WrestleMania ‘reward’.

The idea of 36-year-old Phil Brooks trading star-print tights for sponsor-plastered trunks sent aftershocks throughout the social circuit, as Brooks announced Saturday night at UFC 181 in Las Vegas that he’d signed a multi-fight deal with the organization. Brooks is expected to have his first fight at some indeterminate point in 2015.

From a fighting standpoint, it’s a headscratcher; despite incorporating mixed martial arts into his training regimen, Brooks has never competed in an actual MMA match, nor does he have an amateur background in competitive grappling or fighting. Brock Lesnar was a Division I wrestling champion who also competed in one MMA fight prior to his UFC debut. Brooks has no such experience.

From a business prospective, using Brooks’ name, and accumulated notoriety throughout 2014, makes sense. In this year alone, there have been some ghastly UFC buyrates. UFC 174 on June 14 drew only 115,000 buys, headlined by Demetrious Johnson and Ali Bagautinov for the Flyweight Championship. A Jon Jones defense of the Lightheavyweight Championship on April 26 at UFC 172 drew just 350,000 buys, paltry considering Jones’ name value.

While WWE buyrates largely sunk into the hopper from a combination of waning fan interest and the proliferation of streaming sites (not that UFC doesn’t face the second problem), it’s fair to say that Brooks probably wasn’t the cause. Repetitive booking, homogenized direction, and too much John Cena took their toll on the brand, and Brooks never was really allowed to ascend as undisputed number one. Would the numbers have rebounded with CM Punk as full-blown headliner? Can’t say for certain, but nobody else gets their name chanted for months after telling the company to go screw.

Only eight UFC events have drawn more than one million buys and Lesnar was in four of them, all of which were World Heavyweight Title bouts. Tops is his avenging win over Frank Mir at UFC 100 in July 2009, drawing 1.6M buys. That’s almost 500,000 more than the second-place event, his dramatic comeback win over Shane Carwin at UFC 116, sitting at 1.16M buys.

Since Lesnar returned to WWE, only one UFC event has cleared the million mark: Chris Weidman’s gruesome rematch with Anderson Silva a year ago at UFC 168, where Silva’s leg infamously snapped like balsa wood. That sits in third place with 1.1M buys.

Only four events have even topped 700,000 buys since Lesnar’s departure, and all had either Silva, Georges St-Pierre, or Jon Jones in the main event.

In other words, a little wattage wouldn’t hurt.

That’s not to say that Brooks is going to work his way up the caste and challenge Weidman for the Middleweight crown, or even Robbie Lawler for the Welterweight title. Dana White has already stated that Brooks’ first opponent will be some relatively inexperienced fighter (read: tomato can who may or may not have seen Eight Men Out). It’s hard to imagine a 36-year-old taking up the game becoming a virtuoso, especially without a competitive background in some form of martial art. Dave Bautista was relatively lucky to win his only MMA bout (and not even UFC) at age 43; despite his occasional big talk, he never competed again.

Best case scenario for UFC, it’s a novelty hire, which sounds like something a minor league baseball team would do as a promotion (“It’s Canseco Flip Off Night! Give us your ‘finger’ at the ticket office and get a free bobblehead!”). Chances are, that first fight against John Q. Gumshield will do a better buyrate than most seasoned, and recognizable, fighters would do. Brooks losing would taint his drawing power, so as implied, it’s important that Brooks win. A tease of him being in contention would probably win over an audience that likes the lure of the chase.

Best case, Brooks stays strong long enough to co-headline an event with Brock Lesnar, rumored to be flying the McMahon coop after WrestleMania. Think late 2015, maybe even the annual year-end spectacular that UFC favors, Lesnar headlining against someone like Cain Velasquez or Fabricio Werdum, while Brooks goes on semi-last against perhaps a more noteworthy middleweight, perhaps CB Dolloway or Gegard Mousasi. On paper, that sounds like Brooks would get torn to pieces, but it’s merely an idea. I’m not the promoter here, although I’m sure White’s already stained his rug with this thought.

And what if Brooks clearly enjoys the UFC lifestyle? Maybe he fights three or four times and then migrates into a talking-head position with Curt Menefee or Ariel Helwani, but an endorsement of the UFC life is an open door for others in WWE, those who call BS on the whole ‘brass ring’ speech McMahon gave last Monday, to give MMA a go.

There are names that would have a chance; Jack Swagger is a proven amateur wrestler with an irregular body type that could create mismatches through leverage. Rusev maintains a background in muay thai, and is young enough to have a realistic chance of making a dent in the sport. El Patron Alberto is no longer a WWE star, but as a household name in Mexico (not to mention suddenly relevant in America from his WWE horror stories), he could potentially resume his fighting career in some capacity, even as a two-fight novelty. It’s been five years since Alberto’s last fight, nearly the same time gap Ken Shamrock had in his MMA career (which doesn’t sound promising for Alberto).

The WWE connection to UFC worked once before with Lesnar drawing disenchanted, or just suddenly ‘grown up’, wrestling fans to the sport. Brooks’ name holds immeasurable sway in 2014, and his hiring is White’s savviest business move in quite some time.

It is indeed ‘clobbering time’, but for whom?

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Justin Henry

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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